tv [untitled] CSPAN June 8, 2009 1:00pm-1:30pm EDT
mr. simon is also known for his work writing and producing tv dramas such as hbo's "the wire" it and generation camel and nbc homicide: life on the street. from head table under way, david simon speaking just a few moments, our live coverage starting out on c-span 2. >> we look for it to today's speech and afterwards will ask as many questions from the audience as time permits, i would ask timely that you please
hold your applause during this peak that have time for as many questions as possible. i like to explain if you do hear applause it is from guests and members of the general public to attend our luncheons, not necessarily from always neutral working journalists. [laughter] like to first introduce our head table desk and ask them to stand briefly when the names are called beginning on this end of the table, sam, communications director with the institute for public accuracy and he assured me that i got his name right. which is important when you're with the institute for public accuracy, thank you. andrew schneider, at a bigger washington editors and tear of the npc author committee. sharyl, with the fun for investigative journalism. jeffrey, of the news make washington bureau chief. maryland, sr. business editor with national public radio. on the other side of the podium
and still a keen, with bloomberg news and share offer speakers' committee. moving over the speaker for a moment, laurie, organizer of today's luncheon, and then a managing director of a staten communications, congratulations. valerie jackson, editor with platts. ira allen, public affairs specialist with the fogarty international center and the national institutes of health. skip, he is independent writer and author of letters from washington, a column and international magazine. iraq, washington bureau chief, one for former presidents here with purse newspapers and we're glad to have a creek here as well and finally editor and publisher with american journalism review. and i can give your applause, thank you. [applause] it may come as a surprise to some of you here today as you have watched our speakers lunges of the years that we do not tend
to invite members of the press to speak at the podium and one thing that all that way out of control if we start letting the doors open, right? but we have a special cause to do that today because our speaker is really a special individual, but generally we think that journalists cover the news and we try not to perhaps put them in the spotlight than might otherwise feel uncomfortable when but as i said today's guest is an exception. david simon, a longtime journalist at the baltimore sun hone his skills reporting on the streets at of the most dangerous cities and our country and after years of reporting the realities of inner-city life it was in the murders, drugs are other horrific crimes that drove him out of the journalism industry, he left he told the city paper in 2003 because quoting here: some sons of bitches about my newspaper and is stopped being fun. [laughter] did have that right? is that an accurate quotation? sorry about that. he took a leave of absence from
the paper and for a full year settled the detectives of the baltimore homicide unit and the result was in the edgar award winning book, homicide, a year on the killing streets, which became the basis for nbc homicide: life on the streets. he worked as a writer and later as a producer on that award winning drama. he went on to take a second of absence from the sun to research and write the corner: a year in the life of an inner-city neighborhood. a book about baltimore's drug trade and that work inspired an emmy award winning speetwo miniseries, homicide and the quarter paved the way for the "the wire", his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful television venture that speech and drama which ran for five seasons depicted baltimore struggles with trucks, corruption, schools and finally back to where we started the media. in addition to his sometimes unflattering depiction of the media and "the wire" he
continues to vocally criticized the state of contemporary american journalism, taking aim at the producers and consumers of news and last month before it is senate panel he said that he believes in nothing can save high and professional journalism, despite all that he is doing what he can and he continues to work as a freelance journalist and author writing for the washington post, the new republic of details magazine among others. ladies and gentlemen, please give a nice national press club welcome to david simon. [applause] >> thank you. i don't know of five going to be clear on the c-span channel but i managed to get some salad dressing on my shirt. i did it because my credentials as a journalist now suspect. i have been out of the profession since 95 but i felt if i could leave a little of my lunch for is to be seen, you know, would that it was chinese food and had my feet up on the rewrite desk it would be
perfect. [laughter] this is for you right here. thank you very much for inviting me. i am flattered, it is funny. i feel better knowing now that journalists are not invited to do this. because of the funny part about my critique of journalism such as it is is that when you are an expert in this country meaning when you are in the game, when you're dealing with it every day, when is, when you are living and breathing and you are not an expert but to get a few years away and you have a television show -- i am an expert in television production but all the sudden i'm an expert in the media so there's something strange about that. people keep telling them, ed burns who is my partner and television writer, asked about education, he was a former schoolteacher in baltimore. he said the same thing. when i was an expert when teaching nobody wanted to hear from me and now that i have a television show and not teaching
i have all the opinions of the world and everyone wants to hear them so i am a little suspicious of my own voice on this. but i did agree to speak, i have written on it and i do care about where newspapers have gone and where they're going. i will correct the introduction in only one way -- i think i did say that i worried that it was too late for high in journalism. i think i am a little more open ended about it than to say and don't see any future for it, as really don't see any future for it in the current economic model. and i certainly don't see any future for as long as the journalism community continues to pretend to a certain horology and that we were doing our jobs, that we were heroic in our pursuit of our jobs, that we were out here clearing the path toward democracy, and then technology shifted and the
paradigm changed and now we're stock. it's not to any fault of our own that we can be caught behind the internet. i would believe that if i wasn't in journalism for 15 years prior two their arrival of the internet. it wears thin with me because i actually saw what we did to our own product. i come from that portion of journalism that was affected first and most, by journalism's abdication of its own ambitions. i worked at a newspaper. when i went to work at the baltimore sun it was family-owned. a couple years after that in 1985 we were bought by times mirror and we congratulate the ourselves on being bought by the good change. thank god we are not -- thank god we're going to be all, right. and then they were bought by the tribune company subsequent to that i love to listen in 95 after 13 years. i was the third a buyout at my
newspaper and may be reported under 100 and 90 to leave as the baltimore sun newsroom girls went from 100 -- 500 down to 400. for those of you keeping score the internet was not even a whisper in '95. the baltimore sun was monopoly paper, its profit margins we now know because of the tribune bankruptcy filings were 37 and a half percent. so they were willing to pay for 500 people in order to run the hearst paper out of town, in order to run the news american to the ground which folded in '86, and then to sustain an evening edition of the paper for long enough to get as many of the purest across -- sorry, in another world entirely now, and other readers to come over to an evening paper but then they folded the evening sun to. they also ran is zoned editions in four of the surrounding counties to try to get as much
circulation as they could in the growth areas of baltimore and they do that until the figure out the easier thing to do was to buy the original papers in those counties and in that part of their monopoly so they were willing to have 500 and then given 400 reporters when the pursuits that they were after was a monopoly. there were not willing to do to make a great product or even a good product, and that is what our industry discovered. they discovered this in 1980's and they went to wall street and wall street rewarded them handsomely by basically saying, you know what, we can make a lot more money putting out a mediocre newspaper than i can putting out a great newspaper or even a good newspaper. more wire copy, less reporters, less coverage. this was the bargain that we made and ultimately the people who are making this decision have less and less to do the news room and more to do with the boardroom. two years before i left the
fellow who had taken over the reins of the times mirror company came to speak in my newsroom. a fellow by the name of willis. and he gave a speech and talk about for 45 minutes about cost centers and price centers and never once mentioned to the news. or journalism or the mission of the baltimore sun. he talked about product. and this made purvis sans because before he was selling newspapers he was selling cereal for general marist and he had done a bang of job of improving general mills standing and is priced per share in the market and so now he had been given the reins of a newspaper chain, in one of the better newspaper chains. i remember walking away from that 45 minute talk which concluded with him suggesting that would be so bad if reporters could when doing a story and see the potential for advertising, if you could maybe throw a call to the advertising department. i remember taking the elevator
back to the news room with a guy named mike was one of the best reporters, and then the first two floors or in silence and when the door open on the news room i remember my saying this is over. this is over. and that was early '90s. two years later i was taking a third buyout. we cheated ourselves, we destroyed herself. we did at the behest of wall street and did it for cash on the barrelhead. the people who did it are now on the golf course down at hilton head. probably bemoaning what happened to the wonderful industry there was helmed. the business side, on the editorial side of the ambitious for studded in another way which is to say the same editors that would later stand up at a later point in sacrifice themselves rather than make cutbacks at the l.a. times did not stand up with
the baltimore sun. because they were still worlds to conquer and ever so places to go within the chain in never still personal ambitions to be achieved. no one stood up on the baltimore sun but it closed its doors and ultimately we did not stand up and scream bloody murder when was happening to the other papers filed in 10 years before us to use a historical phrase or misuse in historical phrase they said nothing because i did not want that so essentially they came to the tribune papers and not the only people left that have any potential for high in the journalism are the national papers or the post and the times. the chains have been eviscerated and they have made incredible profits. and yet what has happened is pure unencumbered raw capitalism is never the answer for anything that involves a public mission, not in the answer for american industry. if you look at the way wall street and its analysts and big
money investors have played for the american industry's and have depreciated the actual mission of those industries and a to achieve profit, there'll be some in making money until the day they close the door of the baltimore sun and the san jose mercury and the denver post, so they will figure it out to make a profit to the very day they decide to close the doors but they will be doing less and less journalism. and that would be my critique is that we did this to ourselves and so when the internet came along all of the r and d money, all of the research and development of sublicense and '80s and '90s so that we knew what the internet was and what is potential was and we have placed the industry in a situation where it could drive and ready to charge online and ready to deliver more product, not less, and therefore justify charging on-line, that money went to wall street. it didn't go back into the newsrooms, it made for an
inferior product. the baltimore sun now has 160 reporters covering a metro area that is only larger, only grown, and there are still people getting up in newsroom saying it is all, right we will do more with less. you do less with less, that is why they call it lasts. [laughter] the hyperbole that created -- you know, when the internet landed the head editors at my paper five years after i left and the internet was clearly affecting american life in every frame mark, the editors were running my paper still regarded as advertising for their product rather than the product. they made that mistake and said, you know, these youngsters will serve the web, in quotes, they will serve the web nclr product and realize they really want to subscribe to the online doorstep version of the paper. and they were saying that until just a few years ago. i do think there is one last
hope for journalism and it is this -- they must -- we must find a way, i will use the week even though i'm not entitled, we must find a way to charge on-line and read a new revenue stream for the product. with this ebenezer before we eviscerated the product, before we made a mediocre? in most of the markets in america , yes, it would have been easier when the product was something substantial and something you couldn't get anywhere else. and now does not resemble that in many markets. it will be easy i believe relatively easily and be harder than if we had not led the horse out of the barn door but it will be easy for the national papers to do so and my prediction is within the next year you'll see the washington post and new york times go to an on-line subscription pay model. and after they do you will see murdoch and then you'll see some other regional papers duet and some of them might have enough substance to squeeze through the hole and create a new dynamic and that's the only hope there is.
with every day that you delay another 30 reporters are bought out somewhere or laid-off. another previously proper newspaper decides they could without a copy desk or a train the city editor. every day of delay brings us closer to the abyss. but i think finally the big boys get it. it would have been nice if they had got a five years ago or even longer, but we are where we are. and that is the only hope i have left. now, the scary part i think is this: if the times and the post with long enough eventually you're going to see national newspapers like in britain and you're going to see washington post st. louis addition, washington post baltimore addition, new york times then addition and they're going to hire tenet of people to create a sort of advanced usa today version of a local zoning paper
or usa today gives a couple paragraphs of what your local news is. and they will give you a page and a half of the local mental coverage and because there are offering the times or the post international and national coverage and because you can get that on-line anymore for free because they're going to finally back on the aggregate is like google and yahoo! and return to a combination of this as yet press and reuters, you are going to see this sort of a modern version of the zone in addition, replaced were previously substantive full blooded metro dailies. that is the worst-case scenario. i would rather see locally owned newspaper survive in a rather see them try for this model sooner rather than later but i don't know that it is going to happen. you know, i do think though that journalism has a value, that eventually the value will restore itself and if newspapers can't make the transition year
of wrestling going to see somebody do start-ups -- ca baltimore.org in higher 10 or 15 reporters and 20 or 30 reporters and then pay for it with online subscription. because here is the thing we also mess. in my time as a journalist you lost money on subscriptions, the gas, the trucks, the printing presses, the wood pulp. you lost money there. and you're accepted that anybody on your display ads. that made it harder for us to see the future. the truth is that if somebody pays for a third of what caused the baltimore sun to get to your doorstep now, even at less than that actually, $22 a month to get the baltimore sun. for $8, or $9, if you get an online there is all profit with no trucks or gas, there is no printing press. that is a revenue stream and if you scratched down on the back of a note pad you find out, you
know what, you can generate $300,000 or three her per thousand dollars a month if you get a tenth of the baltimore sun subscriptions on-line to give it to you and with that you can hire about 30 reporters and us about the size of a metro desk. out the scary part is a lot of our citizens are not going to get it because they are not on-line as of the delivery model is not as democratic as news printing. that is something to contend with going forward but i do think there is a future but it begins with content, we're going to have to believe and contents in going to have to pay for content to provided, hire back the talent we have leached out, and then make other people pay for it. if we don't do that, if you put out a product and nobody is willing to pay for it, and a freshman business page will tell you you don't have a product. it is time to stop attending. so i think that is ultimately where we are going and i think finally some people get there but it is way late in the game.
on that happy note, my shirt has tried. [laughter] >> if you don't mind we will shift back and forth, it becomes a bizarre square dance but police say appear. we have several questions essentially survival skills for those still working in daily journalism. people want to know what about young people, what is your new york city them? maybe the question would be asked, should they continue to strive for a career in journalism? what about those who still work in newsrooms? all these dynamics that have to do with shifting sands not only in the industry but the pressures of many people having to work more with fewer resources in the newsroom. a little practical advice for people who are still in the trade or thinking about coming aboard. >> you know, i really don't consider myself an expert on
what to do if you're still in the game right now but one thing i will say that work for me as a word from the inside of a multimedia cents or i had a sort of a marketable skill in didn't even know i did was i manage not to get promoted for my entire career. [laughter] i started on the police beat, ended on the police beat and in some perverse way i parlayed the police beat into something that is a completely different media -- medium rather. there is something in this witches' mess. when journalism -- when i was in journalism school what they told us which was a lie that newspapers were going to become more sophisticated, more complex, beets are going to be more specialized. you're going to be assigned to cover something in coverage the way a good magazine writer might cover its committees to tell us will become my magazines and will become more like literature. that is what they said in the '70s. [laughter] one of my journalism professors,
he worked for upi of the time. [laughter] but i have a future, this is where we're going, we're going to see the ambulance chasing too television and we were going to become more sophisticated but in truth became more generalist. i live for the moment where usa today showed up in the but the boat -- the baltimore sun said recent stop jump stories, if you're jumping stores it is too long newspapers needed to become more sophisticated, more adult, more essential on every beat and they didn't. there is something i would argue if you are a young reporter make yourself an expert in something. stay put, get to be aware of something because it may translate if you're not at a newspaper tomorrow there is somebody who wants to know about that weather is crime, politics, make yourself essential somewhere. for god's sake, don't be a generalist. we have seen what journalism has done to newspapers, it has made
them irrelevant, and that would be my big argument there. >> so unfettered capitalism not good for the industry as you described it in your speech, there is discussion of possible not for profit model. d.c. any future for that work? >> well, i see if the chain newspapers in the second tier towns which have been so is rated in a providing such mediocre product, if they don't turn the corner and pull themselves to the keyhole of it a model on-line, is going to fall into start-ups and, yes, i think in nonprofits are up in baltimore in san jose in any of the cities now underserved journalistically, it's going to work, and i thank you are going to be able to hire the cream of about out laid-off crop of journalists and if you are committed to putting the money back in i think it will actually grow.
you do the math, plot a cocktail napkin into the mass of six, seven, $8 a month for 10% or 15% of what the newspapers prior subscription base was and realize that all of that money come all that is now profit. it is on circulation cost. again, we did not see it, but that has been transformed and i think on a small scale basis where everybody is committed to just covering the original area there is no room and board a lot of things not relevant anymore to the local paper. in the comics, the crossword puzzle, national coverage. but there is still a market in these regional areas for journalism and i think ultimately it will be a non-profit or a very modest profit, some has to say, you know what, five or 6 percent growth is okay. let's put everything else back
into the product and nobody said that in journalism for 35 years. and nobody was compelled, nobody stood up and said what are we doing to our own ambitions? so here we are. >> somebody asked, how can reporters keep this from happening to the industry again that predispose is that they can. >> well, and away the nonprofit model is the only way to do that because i believe the some of these chains, that shouldn't company -- the tribune company and its ilk are so badly run that if they do manage to bring in new revenue stream out of online subscription they will run right back to wall street rushing their profits to try to boost their share price and tried to appease the analysts. i see no suggestion that suddenly leadership in journalism has turned a corner. so i worry about even if the model changes and gives them some breathing room, i worry that they won't have -- in this
country politically and financially nobody plans and all of tree. they all plant annuals, the plant flowers that, bill pretty in the form of a quarterly profit statements and price per share on the financial side. politically the same thing. nobody cares about what the economy will look like six or seven years from now which is why we're in the state we're in here if you plan to an olive tree you'll not get an oliver seven years but we need some olive trees. i worry that even if you create this new revenue stream they will put to rest, they will screw it up again in mag i guess there was some back-and-forth either through the media or maybe it was natural public setting involving you and arianna huffington about the blogs. >> that was that the senate. >> and you were quoted as saying that you like to see a blogger cover city commission meeting or something to that of white.
can you go over the difference the traditional journalism outlet and the blogs as of tuesday of a challenge in the quality of content bear? >> i do believe in unprofessional journalism, i don't believe in sabellas -- i don't believe in the bloggers as anything other than an additional resources that can provide raw information and that can then be sent -- synthesized. i believe that journalism is a craft and profession and then you pay people to edited to and the failings of the internet to provide a professional product are it. an obvious. anybody who is actually been in journalism but i will give you just one of them. the best editor i worked with, one of the two best editors was a guy named steve luxembourg who some may know from the washington post, a really great guy. steve could make it story disappeared with three
questions. you give it to go to the metro air france basket and never come out again because it didn't deserve to come out because of have premises and that seemed plausible and yet when you scratch the reporting there was a whole something you could drive a delivery truck through. and that was an incredible death. the ability to destroy the fraudulent piece of journalism before it was published. no such thing exists on the internet. you know, people said in a room and put to fax to gather it and goddamnit whether it does renault and there is some great stuff being done in the realm of commentary because there are a lot of smart people who blog and for a commentary which sells itself sheep on the internet is completely worthy. but to cover a beat as a reporter, i would not have done it for free or to inform my blog or for some sense of civic duty. i did